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Painkillers led Hudson athlete to heroin

HUDSON, Wis. -- Steven Skoog has been free of heroin and other drugs for more than a year. He isn’t sure why he lived and other addicted friends have died, but he hopes by talking openly about his experiences he might help others avoid the hell that is heroin.

Skoog, Class of 2009, was a four-sport athlete at Hudson High School. During his sophomore year, he injured his knee and had ACL surgery to repair it. His doctor prescribed medication to control the pain. But it wasn’t long before the medication became more important than the injury and he became addicted to the opiate-based pills he was legally prescribed. Those medications included hydrocodones and oxycodones like Vicodin and Percoset as well as morphine.

“I had a ready supply and I was so depressed by not being able to play sports that I didn’t care anymore. The drugs took that feeling away just like the physical pain. I hid my increased use but eventually I couldn’t get more from the doctors. I had to get the pills from other sources, people who I could buy them from,” Skoog said.

Like others who end up using heroin, the painkillers became expensive to buy from dealers and didn’t deliver the same high as they did initially. Skoog said he knew about heroin but drew the line at ever sticking a needle in his arm. “That was one of my pet peeves. I hated needles. People who did that were different from me.”

Skoog first smoked heroin and ingested it but was eventually persuaded to try injecting it after being told the high would be the best ever. “I did it once and it was game over.”

He said he preferred to mix the heroin with cocaine for what is called a “speedball,” because it delivered a “huge, huge rush.”

After graduation, Skoog went to college but dropped out within the first year. He was able to be a “functioning addict” for a long time, keeping his grades up in high school and holding down a job after. But addiction is a progressive disease and it wasn’t long before Skoog was doing things he never thought he would to support his habit.

He described an average day like this: “I would wake up, crush a painkiller or take what I had to start the day. The rest of it would be spending thinking about only one thing -- where to get what I needed for the rest of the day. And sleep wasn’t part of the picture.

“When I ran out and didn’t have a way to get more, I did unspeakable things. I ran through my savings, ended up handing over my entire paycheck to my dealer, getting as much as I could at the time.”

When asked what he was thinking when he was doing these things, he said, “It is hard for people to understand but nothing mattered besides the drugs. I didn’t have a conscience. I stole from my parents, pawned stuff, ripped off other people in the network. I didn’t think twice about it -- whether it was family or friends. I ruined all the relationships in my life. No one could or should have trusted me.”

A turning point

The death of a close friend from an overdose in late 2011 was a shock but it was not enough to make Skoog stop.

Skoog’s parents, Jodi and Phil Skoog, were aware of their son’s addiction and twice he was placed in treatment in the Twin Cities, only to relapse shortly after returning home. “Coming off the painkillers in that place, I was too young. The people in there were really hardcore, nobody I was used to being around in Hudson. I was scared there and wasn’t ready to hear them or grasp anything about treatment. And most of all, I didn’t want to quit. I thought I knew everything.”

But things changed last year when the Skoogs came home to find much of their personal property gone, pawned by Steven to pay for heroin. Jodi Skoog said it was a turning point for the family. After taking Steven with them to buy back their things, they drove him to L E Phillips Libertas Center in Chippewa Falls.

“I didn’t want to go but I didn’t have anywhere else to go either -- I gave up,” Steven said.

While he was there he started to feel better but he still wanted out of treatment. He asked his family and friends to come and get him after 10 days but they refused. He said it was a turning point for him.

“I started to open up to my counselor and things began to click. I was feeling better and starting to think clearer…I wasn’t hearing anything I hadn’t heard before but I was different this time -- sober and starting to feel again.

When Steven was discharged this last time, he opted to use a medication that helps block the craving for opiates. He calls it his backup plan. He made other changes as well. He made new friends, some who are recovering like he is. “I am just sick of being sick and tired. I don’t want to feel like I used to. I like the way I feel now. I can’t quite see the future yet and I don’t know what I want to do but for now I’m glad to be working for my dad and taking that work seriously. I’m doing what I think I need to stay healthy.”

As he recovers, he says the hardest thing to think about are the people he knows who have died of their addiction.

“I understand how it happens. When I was using, I didn’t care if I lived or died. The amount I was using could have easily killed me -- you progress in your use so fast. Hearing about them after getting clean, you always wonder why them and not me.”

The best part of recovery is “feeling things again.” He used to be the life of a party but since recovery, he finds himself shy in social situations. “I’m finding a new place for myself.”

The other good part of life these days is his relationship with his parents. “In high school and while I was using, I didn’t want to be around them. I deceived them, lied to them, stole from them. But without their support through it all, I wouldn’t have made it. They stuck by me. For a lot of people I know, their parents just kick them out but mine just kept trying.”

Skoog will be among those speaking at the Hudson Community Foundation forum “Heroin in Hudson: A Community Crisis” at 6:30 p.m. July 18 at First Presbyterian Church.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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